Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Life Lesson from an Impressive Nineteen-Year-Old

"So Christ has truly set us free.
Now make sure that you stay free
 and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law."
(Galatians 5:1, NLT)

The Galatians had a pretty significant problem.  If you have access to an audio version of the book, it only takes about 20 minutes to listen to the whole thing and, if you do, I think you'll see the same thing I do.  There problem was a focus on external stuff rather than on their own hearts and the redemptive freedom offered in Christ.  They were so hung up on "lists" that Paul has to lay down to opposing lists, one of which we commonly call the Fruit of the Spirit.  They were missing the best and biggest thing - complete freedom from who they were.

Today, in the space of about 15 minutes, this lesson was hammered home to me (and others at church with me) by a 19-year-old college girl.  She spoke of things happening on her campus (a state school, mind you) and then she played a video she made about her past.  I won't go into the details, but the phrase that stuck out was this:

"What am I trying NOT to feel?"

I'm still chewing on this.  When I run toward some empty "stuff" instead of engage, why don't I ask myself this same question?  If this young lady can learn in the space of a few years that Jesus offers freedom from who we were and invites us to abandon ourselves to him, why do any of us keep stuffing hollow garbage into our souls?  By searching for "something else" we are looking to capture a feeling and it won't happen.  It is all anti-feeling.

The Crooked Path promises one thing.  God walks with me in the person of my Divine Older Brother and stands ahead of me calling as my Father.  Embracing that and giving up all my externals is the only way to find freedom in its fullest.  I think I finally saw that clearly today ... and it took a wise 19-year-old to point it out.  I guess an old dog can learn after all.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Knowing for Certain

Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son.  All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.  And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.  I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:9-13, NLT)

It was a thought that really never crossed my mind.  But as it was laid before me, I saw it for what it is.  The simple, passionate message brought by one of my pastors (Dan) cut through all the "theory" about eternal life and made it real - perhaps for the first time.  I realized this isn't some vague, theological concept that we will experience at some future point.  No, John is telling people that they have eternal life now.  Peterson even amplifies this further by rendering part of the passage this way:  "[That you] will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion."  What a concept!

This set my mind thinking about the exchange between Jesus and Martha in John 11 (perhaps John was thinking about it as well when he wrote the passage above).  In the middle of what seems to be death and certainly is human despair, we see Life speaking life into Death and Death melts away so far that Lazarus walks out of the grave.  Martha thought "eternal life" was something that comes later.  Jesus told her, and then demonstrated, that was far from true.  Life, the real and eternal life that endures, was right there all the time.

So it is with me as I travel my Crooked Path.  Eternal life isn't some future concept.  It isn't an illusion at all.  It is very, very real and present right now.  Certainly this mortal shell will pass away.  I was reminded of that this week when the mother of a friend lost her temporal battle with cancer.  But she didn't gain eternal life when she died.  She just moved on to the next stage of experiencing it.  And that happens because we have eternal life right here and now.  I know it's true because Jesus said it - which was kind of John's point in the first place.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Radically Offsensive

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him.
His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.”
(Luke 15:20, The Message)

If you understand the historical context, you begin to realize that the story was intended to be radically offensive to the listeners.  A well-to-do Middle Eastern man of that era would NEVER hike up his robes and run, much less to go out and meet a son who had asked him, quite literally, to act like he was dead and give said son his ⅓ of the estate.  It just wasn’t done.  Besides, if that son had any sense of pride at all, he either would have died in that far-off country or at least never come back to his home town and risk disgracing anyone involved.  No, it was definitely offensive - and that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told it.

But there is another concept that comes into play, and it’s one that isn’t in the text.  I hadn’t considered it until I picked up Tim Keller’s “The Prodigal God” and read it.  Keller introduces a chapter about the true elder brother.  And that’s where the story really shows the heart of God our Father.

The elder brother in the parable was disdainful, both of his brother’s actions and his father’s grief.  He wanted little more than to forget it all and move on.  He was now lord of the manor - all that was belonged to him legally.  And we all know what Jesus had to say about that attitude.

But consider the concept of the true elder brother.  Consider one who, upon seeing the grief of his father, took it upon himself to seek out the younger brother and bring him back home.  Acting at his own expense, he sets off to that far country and risks everything to show the father’s love (and his own) in attempting to win his estranged brother back.  

And, as Keller points out, that’s exactly what Christ did for us.  At his own great expense, he carried out the plan to rescue us.  He does it because the Father’s heart is broken.  The True Elder Brother of us all, comes to us in our darkest hour and offers redemption.  What a beautiful story - and what a radically offensive picture of a love we can barely comprehend.

As I travel the Crooked Path, I do so as a redeemed younger brother of Jesus.  The price he paid to give me the opportunity to reconnect with the Father was beyond measure.  Yet he did it willingly … and that’s quite a radical thought for my journey.